Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Box Art(http://www.konami.com/games/sh)  Rated M for Mature by ESRB.   Put yourself in my shoes.  You just turned off the Silent Hill HD Collection, and as you’re trying to stop your chattering teeth, you realize you’re about to play Silent Hill Downpour.  My anticipation of another intense fright fest matching the sophisticated and insightful scares of Silent Hill 2 and 3 was high; and yet, Downpour didn’t deliver in quite the same vein as its predecessors.  It was still scary and it still had an intriguing protagonist, but the overly complex storyline and the drawn out play time made it hard to stay focused.

Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Box ArtSilent Hill Downpour (PS3) Logo(http://www.konami.com/games/sh) Rated M for Mature by ESRB.  Put yourself in my shoes.  You just turned off the Silent Hill HD Collection, and as you’re trying to stop your chattering teeth, you realize you’re about to play Silent Hill Downpour.  My anticipation of another intense fright fest matching the sophisticated and insightful scares of Silent Hill 2 and 3 was high; and yet, Downpour didn’t deliver in quite the same vein as its predecessors.  It was still scary and it still had an intriguing protagonist, but the overly complex storyline and the drawn out play time made it hard to stay focused.



Presentation:
We start with a long, slow introduction.  In yet another installment of the Silent Hill multiverse, we’re controlling Murphy, a prisoner in a large corrections facility.  After a strange dream (or was it) about killing a fellow prisoner, Murphy is escorted to another prison with an overly hostile female guard.  Sure enough, the bus crashes along the way, landing conveniently on the outskirts of Silent Hill.

Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Screenshot Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Screenshot Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Screenshot

Murphy is an obscured protagonist, and we’re only given the briefest glimpses into his character as the game rolls on.  The prisoner he killed used to be his neighbor.  He might have had a child based on the tricycle rolling through his yard.  Of course, Downpour takes a cue from its lineage and gives you choices to make along the way that will shape Murphy even further. 

Graphics:
Oh, these are getting good.  Maybe it was my transition from the HD Collection and it’s updated but still older graphics, but I liked Downpour’s a lot.  There are still some flaws; the blood on the ground looks identical to how it did in the past (that is, fake), but it’s still very good.  We see the best improvements in the facial expressions and details of the characters.  Hair, eyes, and even rain are rendered in precise graphics. Your character even moves his mouth in relative sync with the voice during gameplay, not cut scenes.

The camera remains fixed for the most part.  The evolution of gaming has made most of us used to a controllable camera, especially me, but after playing with the rigid camera of SH 2 and 3, I was more than happy to transition to this new camera.  You can hold down R2 and keep the camera locked behind you, but that’s tedious to do for the entire game.

Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Screenshot Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Screenshot Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Screenshot

Sounds:
Let’s address the soundtrack first, since that main theme and style identifies a Silent Hill game in seconds.  The composer of the series, Akira Yamaoka, was replaced by Daniel Licht for this game.  And that’s something that’s easy to notice as soon as the game starts up.  The haunting chords and industrial twangs have been traded with more folksy, lighter melodies.  They’re certainly not square dancing songs; sorrow and distress is palpable through the music, but it’s missing most of that lost soul soundtrack we’ve come to recognize from SH games.

The voice acting was strong: it wasn’t cheesy, and it wasn’t overdone in a way that forced me to listen to too many conflicting voices at once.  The smaller sound effects, like birds and footsteps, will always be impressive to me in Silent Hill games, and they remained astounding in this one.

Gameplay:
Finally, a tutorial!  I’ve skipped a lot of games between Silent Hill 3 and Downpour, but coming fresh off of 3 will make you appreciate the use of simple, understandable tutorials that appear consistently in Downpour.  Even the loading menus have tips, which can often make or break your progress in specific areas (cough Arkham Asylum).  Balancing on unsteady beams or other structures is just too much fun; it’s not that hard but it’s certainly not going to let you get away with pushing that joystick a little too far. 

Fighting is fluid and accurate, with an AI that won’t make up for your stupid mistakes; when I was not facing my target, I’d miss.  When I faced them, the hit landed.  This game also features a real time weather system : when it rains, danger is approaching, and you can either hide in a building or confront the menace.  I didn’t love actually pushing open my own doors.  Call me lazy, but I’m used to pressing X and having things happen without the extra step.   The journal was helpful in keeping track of my progress, but it was so hard to read sometimes.  The map also didn’t allow much control when you tried to move your field of vision.  It didn’t take long for things to transform into standard Silent Hill mode with the fog and horrible growls, but it was such a long intro that I found myself dragging my feet and wanting to stop several times.

Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Screenshot Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Screenshot Silent Hill Downpour (PS3) Screenshot

Longevity:
As usual for a Silent Hill game, Downpour offers multiple endings depending on how you play the game, and working towards all endings will take considerable time.  That’s often the goal of a SH player, and Downpour’s “Surprise” ending seems more than worth the effort.  I don’t want to spoil it, but I think I’d commit to the necessary lengthy gameplay to see it.

Conclusion:
I’ve played games before that were catered exclusively to fans, but I feel like Downpour is a shift away from the usual Silent Hill audience.  A new soundtrack, a slower introduction and tutorials all seem to do one thing: break you in to Silent Hill, rather than throw you headfirst into it like previous installments.  This is great for newer audiences, but original fans will feel that things have been dumbed down rather than scared up.

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